“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV)
We talk a lot about faithful living around here; we talk about making choices, decisions, and commitments that serve to move people toward God. One of the most important choices we make is how we will distribute our income. It’s no secret that our economy has been challenging for many people this past year. We all have to make difficult decisions. We are responsible to pay our bills and provide for our families; we are required by the government to pay taxes; sometimes we even want to go out to dinner, a movie, or go on vacation. Each of these activities forces us to make choices and decisions about how we will use the money we have available. You may have noticed in this list that God is not mentioned; giving to the church doesn’t come into this picture. I did this on purpose to remind us all that we sometimes place God at the bottom of our financial priority list rather than at the top. We too often give God what’s leftover at the end of the month, rather than giving God the “first fruits” of our labors as the Bible mandates. It is tempting to think that God will understand; “he knows the tight spot we’re in and he surely doesn’t want my kids to go without something they want. God wouldn’t want us to delay our vacation, would he?” Maybe we should remember that God’s ways are not our ways and that we have only to look at Scripture to discern what God is thinking.
The economy is a challenge for all of us; you need to know that the economic downturn has affected the income our church receives from its endowments and other investments. We are not immune from the difficulties everyone faces. Since the stock market and banking industry difficulties began last year, this church has lost a large portion of the income we depend on to provide maintenance and other items for our buildings. It is also important for you to know that overall giving from our church members is down significantly from last year. In fact, we are seeing a nearly 10% drop in weekly giving this year. I suspect that some of this change is due to the challenges we all face in today’s economy and the fear that things are going to get worse before they get better. We have less to work with and we tend to give less to God so we have more to use on other essentials in our lives.
There are two ways we can respond to this change. We could “face reality” and recognize this financial shortfall as something we simply cannot control. We could pull back on the missions and ministries we offer to our church members and to the community. We could use the facilities less and put off doing needed maintenance and upgrades. We could listen to the voices of this world and keep a low profile until all this blows over. In other words, we could shrink our faith to fit into the world’s tiny box and then watch as our ministry shrinks and withers.
I prefer Option #2: We will do as Scripture tells us – we will step out in faith and trust that God will give us everything we need to expand our ministry. We will not shrink from the challenge – we will embrace it. We will continue to make choices, decisions, and commitments that serve to bring more people into a relationship with God. We will continue to plan for new mission and ministry opportunities; we will not delay or delete our programs. We will not listen to the voice of Satan trying to get us to stop doing God’s work; we will increase our profile and be God’s church no matter what.
I want to be very clear…I fully understand the financial challenges we all face. I also know all about choosing to pay the world first and then pay God. There was a time in our lives when we left God until the end of the month and only gave him what was left; the thing is, there was almost never anything leftover for God. When we changed our priority and gave freely to God FIRST, we always managed to have enough to pay everyone else too. Isn’t it interesting how God works in our lives? Go’s ways are not our ways…I guess that’s the point.
Please remember that God wants our “first fruits” not our “stale leftovers”…Give to God what is God’s – If you do, you will always have plenty to go around. Help us live according to Option #2 – give generously so that the ministries of this church can continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.